An overview of sexting laws in Texas for adults
Perhaps you or a family member has indulged in a form of social media commonly called “sexting.” With no physical contact involved, such flirtations may seem harmless. But did you know that sexting can be a crime in Texas?
It all depends on what you text and to whom.
What is sexting?
As a mix of “sex” and “texting,” the term “sexting” more broadly refers to various forms of electronic or digital communication using a cell phone, computer or other digital device to receive, forward or send sexually explicit text, images, photos or videos.
Smartphones are the most common technology used for sexting since they include cameras for taking and sending sexually explicit photos, as well as access to the internet, all in one device.
Who is most likely to sext?
It’s widely assumed that sexting is largely the domain of teens. GuardChild.com reports that an estimated 40 percent of teens have sent sexually suggestive messages via text, email or instant messaging, and 20 percent of teens have sent or posted semi-nude or nude videos or photos of themselves.
But other studies indicate that adults and the population at large are just as likely to indulge in sexting. Research reported at a recent American Psychological Association convention revealed that over 80 percent of people surveyed online said they’d sexted in the past year. And 88 percent had sexted at one time or another.
Is sexting illegal?
Though sexting can be illegal in some circumstances, surely almost 90 percent of Americans aren’t criminals. Or are they?
Some may be surprised to discover that their behavior is illegal. Consider the case of disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner. He was recently sentenced to 21 months in a prison for the crime of sexting with a 15-year-old girl whom he had never met.
That was a federal offense leading to federal prison. But what about Texas sexting laws? When is sexting a crime in Texas?
What are Texas sexting laws?
Texas laws on sexting tend to go easier on teens and more strictly on adults. They also don’t mention the word “sexting,” but rather describe sending or receiving materials illegally.
Under Texas statutes, a consensual intimate texting relationship between adults who engage in sexting isn’t a problem. But when participants are involved with minors while texting, it can lead to jail time.
Though Texas law doesn’t specifically prohibit sexting, it does consider it a crime when sexual communications, which can include sexting, occur between adults and minors.
Under Texas Penal Code §43.24, distributing or displaying harmful or prurient material to a minor under age 18 is a crime for an adult. That means sexting is a crime when an adult shares sexual material with a minor in this way.
It’s also illegal for an adult to send a sexual image of a minor to another adult, and the other adult receiving it. That can be considered possessing or distributing child pornography — a very serious offense in Texas and under federal law, too.
Another Texas law also makes sexting illegal and pertains more to teens.
Texas Penal Code §43.261 holds that a minor commits a crime by knowingly and deliberately sending electronic messages involving sexual conduct by minors to other minors. Under Texas law, it’s illegal for minors to possess visual material depicting other minors in sexual conduct if the minor possessing it produced the material or knows a minor who did so.
However, if such material shows only the sender or another minor no more than two years older than the sender, and the two are in a dating relationship, that’s not considered a crime under Texas law. This protects teen couples who simply indulge in sexting to each other and include no other minors in the sexting materials or contacts.
Though anyone under the age of 18 is considered a minor in Texas, the state also holds that the “age of consent” is 17. This means that at age 17, teens have the legal right to consent to sexual activity.
It also means they can send sexually explicit images via sexting or some other means to a dating partner within two years of their own age. However, if such a teen sends sexual images to an adult aged 20 or older, that can be considered a crime, both for the teen and for the adult.
Sexting also applies under Texas Penal Code §43.26, which concerns the possession or promotion of child pornography. Simply possessing child pornography is a crime, regardless of how old you are, and sexting can be construed as a means of possessing and distributing child pornography.
When to contact a Texas sex crime defense lawyer?
Teens or adults facing criminal charges over sexting when the wrong things may have been sent to the wrong persons need to get an experienced and knowledgeable Texas sex crime defense lawyer. In Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Houston and the rest of Harris County, that lawyer is veteran Houston defense attorney Neal Davis.
Neal Davis has worked to get charges such as sexting and other sex crime offenses reduced or even dismissed for many of his clients in the pre-trial stage. He also has defended clients successfully when their case goes to trial.
Neal Davis understands the law and the seriousness of sex crime and child porn charges. He also recognizes the fact that oftentimes so-called sexting doesn’t constitute a criminal offense, but rather overzealous law officers and prosecutors making broad interpretations of the law.
As a defense against a sex crime charge, Neal Davis may argue that the defendant is innocent based on individual circumstances of the case. Perhaps an adult received sexually explicit images of a minor via sexting, but the adult didn’t know that the images depicted a minor. Perhaps the adult never agreed to receive such images in the first place, before they were sent.
Keep in mind that much sexting is entirely voluntary. Teens often take sexual pictures of themselves and send them to other teens with whom they have a relationship with and who are willing recipients. But the line between consensual courtship and criminal sexting can be blurred by authorities who are determined to make a name for themselves by prosecuting “sex criminals.”
Don’t let overreaching authorities and overly broad laws put you in the position of facing a charge for sexting or other sex crimes.
Contact us at the Neal Davis Law Firm today and receive a free and confidential legal review of your case. Then, let’s get started defending your legal rights.